Tag Archives: Bay Area Refineries

COURTHOUSE NEWS SERVICE: Refinery Town decision may have huge ramifications for nation’s energy infrastructure

Repost from Courthouse News Service

Refinery Town Says No to Valero’s Oil-by-Rail Plan

By Matthew Renda, Friday, September 23, 2016 5:14 PM PT
Courthouse News Service
Courthouse News Service

BENICIA, Calif. (CN) — The City Council of a small city of 27,000 in California’s San Francisco Bay Area made a decision this week that may have huge ramifications for the nation’s energy infrastructure.

The five-person Benicia City Council voted unanimously to reject the Valero Crude Oil by Rail Project — a substantial setback for an oil and gas industry that operates several refineries nearby and setting an interesting precedent for local government’s assertion of jurisdiction over oil and gas routes.

The Valero Crude Oil by Rail Project would have allowed the oil company, which operates a large refinery in Benicia, to bring in crude oil by rail rather than exclusively by ship as the current arrangement dictates.

However, Benicia City Council ended a divisive community fight over the issue by finding the project is too dangerous for the community. The potential for contamination of the Sulphur Springs Creek and other watersheds in the event of a derailment proved too much for the council members to brook.

“I have seen stories piled on top of the other about what wasn’t working and what is particularly troubling is the lack of financial resources provided in the case of a catastrophic event,” Mayor Elizabeth Patterson said during deliberation on Wednesday night. “The money comes in too late, people have to go out of business and people have to move away.”

Leading up to the decision, several questions about whether the City Council even had jurisdiction hovered over the matter, with project proponents asserting that the federal government regulates rail and any decision made by the city government is preempted.

However, the Surface Transportation Board wrote the city on Wednesday before the meeting saying while the federal government does regulate interstate commerce and the railroad, the proposed $70 million rail depot was within the regulatory purview of the city.

While many local residents applauded the decision, environmental groups talked about its reverberations.

“This is a victory for the right of communities to say no to refineries’ dangerous oil train projects,” Ethan Buckner with the group Stand — formerly ForestEthics — said. “The federal government has said once and for all that there is nothing in federal law that prevents cities from denying these oil companies’ dangerous rail projects.”

In the series of meetings leading up to the decision, Valero touted its safety record and said the train project carried minimal risk and would bring jobs and economic activity to the region.

“After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the City Council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project,” Valero said in a statement. “At this time we are considering our options moving forward.”

Valero is the largest employer in the city, according to a recent comprehensive financial report compiled by the city’s finance team.

However, Patterson said the city’s general plan calls for a more diversified economy that relies heavily on small businesses, many of which would be hampered by the crude oil by rail project, particularly if something went wrong.

“We have to be less dependent on the refinery as we pivot into an era of attracting different kinds of businesses,” she said.

In 2014, trains transporting crude oil spilled about 57,000 gallons of the environmentally hazardous substance, more than any other year since the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration began keeping track in 1975.

The Columbia River, one of America’s most scenic rivers as it carves out the border between Oregon and Washington state, was spoiled by 42,000 gallons of oil when a train derailed due to a defective bolt on the track.

While many celebrated the possibly precedent-setting decision undertaken by the small city body, Councilman Mark Hughes resigned himself to certain litigation and its associated expense.

“Regardless of the decision tonight, I believe a lawsuit will be filed,” Hughes said.

So whether Benicia’s decision will be the first in an onslaught of local entities attempting to regulate elements of the oil and gas industry out of their communities or whether that will be left to federal and state authorities may be a matter for the courts to decide.

There are five major refineries in the Bay Area including the Valero refinery in Benicia: Chevron in Richmond, Tesoro outside of Concord, Phillips 66 in Rodeo and Shell in Martinez also operate and contribute significantly to both the local economy and air pollution.

The five refineries process about 800,000 barrels of crude oil per day and along with other oil and gas companies generate about $4.3 billion in local tax revenue, according to a 2014 study performed by Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation and commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association.

But Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, told Courthouse News recently that the refineries are responsible for anywhere from 4 to 41 percent of the pollutants in the area, depending on which pollutant is identified.

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    Letter to the Bay Area Air District: require strict emissions caps on refineries

    Posted with permission

    Benicia Resident Marilyn Bardet’s letter to the Chair of the Board, Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)

    Direct staff to require numerical emissions caps on all refinery emissons
    By Marilyn Bardet, Sept 16, 2015

    Dear Chair Groom,

    Marilyn Bardet
    Marilyn Bardet, Benicia CA

    In response to the overwhelming testimony the District has received from all corners of the Bay Area, as chair of the BAAQMD board of directors, you, with your board, have the authority to direct District staff to revise DRAFT Rules 12-15 and 12-16 as currently released, to require strict numerical emissions caps on all refinery emissions, including GHG.

    By all means of public testimony over a two-year period, you have heard from concerned and affected members of the public, respected regional and national organizations (including Sierra Club, NRDC, CBE, 350 Bay Area, APEN, Sunflower Alliance) and other experts in the field who have recommended and put forward well-defined revisions that would impose strict numerical emissions caps on refinery emissions tied to current emissions baselines for TAC, VOCs, heavy metals and PM2.5, including GHG.

    You know that oil companies in the region aim to acquire and process the most dangerously polluting crude in the world — tar sands. Refineries processing changed crude slates whose blends have increasing amounts of heavy crude, unconventional crudes such as Bakken oil, and/or tar sands will adversely impact regional and local air quality, especially affecting front-line communities and those “downwind communities.” Allowing emissions to “go up to” long ago established permitting levels (Valero Benicia’s permit was established in 2003) is tantamount to the District “giving in” to benefit the oil industries’ profit, not public health.

    The District’s mandate is to clean up the air for the benefit of public health, and, in accordance with state mandates, to protect the climate by drastically reducing GHG. Oil refining is the biggest industrial source of GHG. Carbon trading by refineries will simply send “pollution credits” elsewhere and keep toxic emissions “at home” that kill thousands of people in the Bay Area each year. GHG emissions from fossil fuel combustion threaten to destroy our global climate and way of life.

    Strong refinery rules that set numerical limits on toxic emissions tied to current baselines and limit GHGs are our best chance to protect public health and protect the climate.

    We need your leadership more than ever now! I am writing to ask that you make it clear to your directors that the “highest good” must be done by BAAQMD in the name of public health and climate protection, such that, until revisions to Rules 12-15 and 12-16 are adopted that set refinery emission caps at today’s levels, including for GHG, the agency will suspend permitting for refinery projects.

    This is a bold request, but these are very uncertain times that require every precaution and concerted action by leadership to create policies that protect people and the planet.

    Thank you for your public service, and for you attention to my comments.

    Respectfully,

    Marilyn Bardet
    Benicia
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      League of Women Voters to host Benicia forum on refinery rules

      Repost from the Benicia Herald

      Benicia forum on refinery rules set

      September 8, 2015 by Nick Sestanovich

      Air District to have 2-hour ‘open house’ at Robert Semple Elementary on Sept. 17

      Debate over the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project — now well into its third year — intensified last week after the release of the revised Draft Environmental Impact Report. But even as residents, businesses and others in the city continue to pore over that massive document, they will have the opportunity to learn more about newly drafted state rules for refineries at a forum here next week.

      The Bay Area Air Quality Management District will host a series of open houses at elementary schools in the refinery-heavy nexus of Benicia, Martinez and Richmond this month to present the agency’s four new and amended rules to reduce refinery emissions.

      “This is part of an effort to reduce emissions from Bay Area refineries by 20 percent or as much as feasible by 2020,” Air District spokesperson Ralph Borrmann said Friday.

      The four rules deal with limiting ammonia from fluid catalytic cracking units; broadening equipment leak standards to include all equipment that handles heavy liquids; reducing sulfur dioxide from coke calcining processes; and regulating cooling towers to reduce emissions of organic compounds, toxics and methane by being able to detect and fix leaks.

      “The Air District passed a resolution almost a year ago to develop a strategy to reduce refinery emissions,” Borrmann said. “Bay Area refineries are among the most regulated in the country, if not the world, but these meetings are presenting the public with an ambitious approach to reduce emissions that are part of an aggressive approach to regulate refineries in our area.”

      The open houses, Borrmann said, will not be lectures but rather forums for people to discuss and gather information. Tables will be set up with in-house experts so attendees can ask questions about the new rules, he said.

      “We hope the communities and other stakeholders will have an opportunity to learn about air quality and have a role in the rule-making process,” he said.

      The BAAQMD’s Benicia open house will be from 6-8 p.m. Sept. 17 at Robert Semple Elementary, 2015 East Third St.

      The two other open houses will be Sept. 15 from 6-8 p.m. at Las Juntas Elementary School, 4105 Pacheco Blvd., in Martinez; and Sept. 28 from 6-8 p.m. at Lincoln Elementary School, 29 Sixth St., in Richmond.

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        Phillips 66 refinery fire in Rodeo, California

        Repost from the Contra Costa Times

        East Bay: Rodeo’s Phillips 66 refinery fire extinguished

        By George Kelly, 08/03/2015 06:27:13 AM PDT
        A photo shows a fire that broke out Sunday afternoon at the Philips 66 refinery in Rodeo.
        A fire broke out Sunday afternoon at the Philips 66 refinery in Rodeo. (Courtesy of Jason Sutton)

        RODEO — A small fire Sunday at the Phillips 66 refinery spurred the county health department to issue a public health advisory for the towns of Rodeo and Crockett.

        The fire began around 3 p.m. at the refinery site in the 1300 block of San Pablo Avenue, spurring a response from refinery fire staff and Rodeo-Hercules fire district firefighters, Phillips 66 spokesman Paul Adler said in a statement. No injuries were reported, and the fire’s cause is under investigation, Adler said.

        The Contra Costa County incident warning system issued an alert just before 3:15 p.m. that staff concerned with hazardous materials were responding to a report of a fire at the refinery. County officials advise people with respiratory sensitivities to avoid the area or stay inside and rinse any irritated area with water but added that most people should not be affected.

        The county’s hazardous materials incident response site listed the refinery’s last major incident as a little more than three years ago. On June 15, 2012, an overpressured sour water tank left splits in two tanks, sending chemical vapors into the air and leaving odors detectable in surrounding communities, according to a tally of major accidents at the county’s chemical and refinery plants.

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